Submitted by rfrazier on
Shirley Aldana

AmeriCorps service creates economic opportunity for a mother and daughter.

In the rich tapestry of life, stories often unfold in unexpected and awe-inspiring ways. One such story begins with a courageous journey from Guatemala to the United States in 1978 when I was just eleven years old. As I stepped onto American soil, I carried dreams and aspirations as vast as the Texas horizon. Years later, as college beckoned my classmates, I found myself quietly shying away from grand plans, hindered by the stark reality of my legal status and limited resources. My future was uncertain. 

Instead, life led me down a different path, one that saw me becoming a wife and a mother to three beautiful children. In the hearts of my little ones, I saw natural talents waiting to flourish — be it in art, music, singing, or acting. My hopes for them soared high, but life, with its capricious turns, had other ideas. 

Our family faced hardships, and the challenges began to grow insurmountable. It was during my eldest, Madison's senior year in high school when the storm peaked. Painful issues strained our family bonds, but Madison was on track to secure a sports scholarship. Instead, she left home, leaving her dreams of high school graduation behind.  

But life's narrative isn't confined to a single chapter. In the midst of life's storms, there is often a silver lining. We discovered AmeriCorps, and when we shared this opportunity with Madison, her eyes sparkled with newfound hope. She decided to apply and embarked on a journey with AmeriCorps NCCC in 2007. Through dedication and hard work, she not only graduated from the program but also achieved her GED, setting her on a path of transformation. 

Madison serving in AmeriCorps NCCC
Shirley (left) and her daughter, Madison (right).

As her story was being rewritten, so was mine. In the same year Madison graduated from AmeriCorps NCCC, I finally became a permanent US resident, and the doors to the University of Southern California creaked open for me as a student in cultural anthropology. My dreams of higher education were within reach. But, as life would have it, financial challenges forced me to relinquish my academic pursuit. 

I found myself at a career crossroads, and that's when Madison, now a beacon of inspiration, encouraged me to explore opportunities with AmeriCorps. I embraced the chance for change and began my AmeriCorps journey in Austin, Texas, in July 2015. My year of service opened my eyes to new horizons, rekindling the flames of my educational aspirations. 

In 2016, I achieved my dream of completing my undergraduate degree with help from the Segal Education Award that I received after completing my year of service. Inspired by the profound impact of AmeriCorps, I embarked on a journey that led me to attain a Master of Social Work in 2019. I am now on track to obtain my Doctor of Philosophy in industrial and organization psychology at Adler University, where I received a 50 percent tuition scholarship through AmeriCorps’ Schools of National Service initiative. AmeriCorps has been a constant source of inspiration for both Madison and me, propelling us to pursue our dreams against all odds. 

Today, Madison, a true embodiment of resilience, volunteers yearly at burn survivors' summer camps and works as a surgical technician at Harbor UCLA Hospital. Like me, she used part of the Segal Education Award that she received after service, which helped her  earn a license in emergency services and launched her into a career that she is passionate about. She has become a role model for her own children, illustrating the boundless possibilities that arise from determination and perseverance. 

As for me, I am currently concluding my second AmeriCorps VISTA service as the City of Austin AmeriCorps VISTA leader, a testament to the remarkable journeys AmeriCorps can inspire. 

Shirley during her AmeriCorps VISTA service
Shirley (Right) during her AmeriCorps VISTA service. 

In this tale of two generations, AmeriCorps has played a pivotal role, proving that dreams can flourish, resilience can overcome adversity, and aspirations can be achieved even when life's path takes an unexpected turn. Our story is a testament to the incredible transformations that can occur when hope, dedication, and AmeriCorps unite. 

Let our journey serve as a beacon of inspiration, lighting the way for others seeking their own paths of accomplishment, dreams, and endless possibilities.